Renewable energy systems more reliable, cost-effective | Sunday Observer

Renewable energy systems more reliable, cost-effective

The air we breathe has a huge impact on our health, and we could even say, is slowly killing us – 92 per cent of people worldwide do not breathe in clean air, due to the increase in pollutants released since the industrial revolution. Closer to home, the air quality in Colombo was ranked ‘Unhealthy’ by the Air Quality Index, attributed to the spike in vehicles in the city as well as industrial pollutants.

Yet air pollution is often a neglected concern and its causes and impacts are poorly understood.

To drive greater awareness towards the issue, this year’s World Environment Day focuses on the theme of air pollution, and how we can tackle it.

There are several drivers behind air pollution, but in many countries, energy production is a leading cause. The burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas to produce electricity has been a key culprit to emitting greenhouse gases and air pollutant emissions. Energy production and use is the single biggest contributor to global warming, accounting for roughly two-thirds of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, notably reducing air quality and increasing weather extremes.

Energy and electricity touches almost every aspect of our lives, whether it is lighting, heating, water, cooking and sanitation. Also with the rapid increase in the world’s population greatly magnifying the effects of our agricultural and economic activities, a key question remains – how do we live large with a smaller impact? How can we use less but gain more?

One of the key areas that we can look at is the process of water management – from highly industrialised cities to off-grid, rural areas.

Water and energy are intrinsically linked, which means as we see water demand grow alongside population growth, energy use is expected to climb as well. Energy is required to make water resources available for municipal and industrial use, from pumping, transportation, treatment, and desalination.

In order for us to achieve the best outcome for our energy challenges, we need to constantly innovate, and design solutions, strategies and policies that holistically investigate how we can improve each process with greater energy efficiency, in turn contributing less carbon emissions into the environment.

A greener way forward

Industries are responsible for a considerable fraction of the world’s energy consumption, and water plays a key role in energy use in industrial processes. Millions of gallons of water are moved and treated to make everyday products – for example, 2,500 litres of water go into making a cotton t-shirt.

Underpinning water movement and treatment throughout the production process, pumps are responsible for a staggering 10 per cent of global electricity consumption.

Around five percent of this electricity can be saved, if energy efficient pumps are used instead. For pump manufacturers like Grundfos, the pursuit of digitalisation has meant incorporating intelligence into its products to make them more intuitive and connected, and thus perform more efficiently. Grundfos’ calls this iSolutions – a range of products with a focus on connectivity, intelligent monitoring and adjustment features, optimising water efficiency across the entire system.

Digitalisation opens the door to a more sustainable business model that not only allows companies to produce more with less, but also avoids unnecessary waste of resources such as energy and water.

Away from cities and industries, energy use is also a challenge in rural areas, which has a direct impact on water access as they need power to transport water to their communities.

With that, these communities that live without connection to the central power grid often turn to diesel generators as their primary source of power supply. This meant for them high electricity costs and a dependency on volatile oil prices, along with contributing greenhouse gases and other pollutants to the environment.

Renewable energy systems have been increasingly recognised as a more reliable, cost-effective, and environmentally sustainable alternative.For example, solar energy can be used to power water pumping stations in these remote locations. With the required energy, the pumping stations can then draw water from various sources to meet the needs of families and communities.

A case in point is the Kahiyangan village on Pulau Tomia in Indonesia, which grappled with water shortage for over 20 years. The water source for the village was a cave three kilometres away that could only be accessed by traversing extreme terrains. With low levels of income, villagers could not afford traditional water pumping systems that are powered by fossil fuel and require infrastructure support.

To tackle this challenge, an irrigation and sinewave filter system with a renewable solar inverter was installed in the village, powered by 144 solar panels.

The off-grid solar inverter harnesses solar energy and converts the DC power output from the solar panel to AC power supply for pump operations. The system pumps water into a water tank, drawing 100,000 litres of water from the cave a day, providing clean water to around 1,000 people across two villages. The inventive use of solar energy also means that there is no operation cost involved for building electricity infrastructure.

The path ahead

Climate change and its far-reaching consequences, including air pollution, is intertwined with energy use, no matter which part of the world you are in. Whether it is using energy efficient technology or tapping into alternative fuel sources, the opportunities we have to reduce our carbon emissions are within reach.

It is heartening to see more policies and programs aimed at increasing energy efficiency and production from renewable sources.

At the moment, 82 countries out of 193 have incentives that promote investment in renewable energy production, cleaner production, energy efficiency and pollution control.

On this World Environment Day, let us recognise that air pollution represents a great risk to the environment. Fighting air pollution by addressing the root causes will bolster progress on climate change and go a long way in giving us a healthier and better quality of life.-

- The writer is the Group Senior Vice President and Regional Managing Director, Grundfos Asia Pacific Region.